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View Ed Fast Profile
View Ed Fast Profile
2020-08-13 13:01
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Let me begin by challenging Mr. Hardie's suggestion that there was a lot of conflicting evidence from our witnesses on the problems with the wild salmon fishery. That simply is not the case. In fact, there's been a great deal of consistent testimony. Indeed, except for allocation of fisheries and perhaps access to the different fisheries, there's remarkable consistency in testimony. We've heard consistently about a dysfunctional DFO. We've heard about a lack of stock assessments, failure to base decisions on science, lack of consultation with stakeholders and broken governance models. Much of that has been reaffirmed today at this meeting.
Mr. Edwards, you said that we need to dismantle the entire organization. I just want to be clear about what organization you are referring to. Are you referring to DFO's Pacific region or the regional aquatic management board or some other organization?
Dan Edwards
View Dan Edwards Profile
Dan Edwards
2020-08-13 13:03
I was talking about the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, specifically Pacific region.
View Ed Fast Profile
View Ed Fast Profile
2020-08-13 13:03
That is, of course, consistent with testimony we've heard at other meetings where we're reviewing the decline in salmon stocks.
Could you tell us what that dismantlement would look like in practice? If you dismantle, you have to replace it with something that's going to be effective. Be as brief as possible, because I have one other question.
Dan Edwards
View Dan Edwards Profile
Dan Edwards
2020-08-13 13:03
That's a very important point.
The Government of Canada has done all kinds of reorganization. It did it with INAC recently. There are all kinds of ways to do it. Significant study has been done on proper governance models that can be utilized by government in order to put proper consultative and governance frameworks together.
B.C. has a lot of thinkers who have done that over the years. I worked with one for years, Craig Darling, who has done all kinds of work for government on how to properly re-engage government with its stakeholders and with first nations. That work needs to be done.
Brad Mirau
View Brad Mirau Profile
Brad Mirau
2020-08-13 13:06
You could answer that yourself by going to the DFO website and then looking at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website. There's much more transparency, predictability about run size, communication with fishermen and communication with industry. Industry knows beforehand what the plan is and what the allocation process is.
In B.C. here, we are increasingly in the dark. Sometimes DFO officials tell us they're not allowed to tell us because of court decisions or reconciliation discussions. It's a lack of information, a lack of proper stock assessment and a lack of data, culminating.... You may know that B.C. no longer has marine stewardship certification on our salmon. Yes, we suspended it as an industry, but it's because DFO has not followed up on its end of the bargain to provide stock assessment and data required for us to hold it.
You can see it by looking at the websites. It will become clear to you.
View Blaine Calkins Profile
I have a question for Ms. Scarfo, and maybe Mr. Mirau. There has been a lot of discussion about investments and how the department and the governments of the day invest their money. There's a litany of investments—some small, some large—on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website, announcements made by local MPs and/or the minister. Many of these I look at and go, “I don't see these as being issues directly related to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans or the enhancement of fisheries at all. These seem to be tangential issues meant more to appease special interest groups.”
Would any of you care to talk about whether or not you think the department is actually investing in things that will make a consequential difference?
Brad Mirau
View Brad Mirau Profile
Brad Mirau
2020-08-13 13:18
I can speak on that briefly. I'm sure that the larger the government, the worse some of the spending is, but I would like to see more spending on the counting of the fish because you can't catch what you can't see.
I will give you an example about the Alaskan fish being caught. Southeast Alaska will catch the chum that we won't catch. We're not allowed to catch them because the stock assessment is not there. Our DFO will not let us catch American chum in the Prince Rupert area because they have insufficient stock assessment.
We need more and better stock assessment on the grounds, counting of the fish, and monitoring of the fish, for sure.
View Marilène Gill Profile
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My question is for Mr. Mirau, Ms. Scarfo or Mr. Edwards.
In your introduction, you mentioned—I can't remember who did, but I know that Mr. Mirau mentioned it—the issue of conflict of interest at Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Could one of you elaborate on that?
Brad Mirau
View Brad Mirau Profile
Brad Mirau
2020-08-13 13:27
I can answer that. One potential massive conflict would be DFO managing fish farms as well as wild fisheries. If there is a question and the science isn't settled about the safety of fish farms, then I think there's at least the perception of a conflict of interest there. In all of the allocation agreements, there is a conflict if the fish managers are actually in the discussion and they're the ones making the decision. I think it's a conflict—
Brad Mirau
View Brad Mirau Profile
Brad Mirau
2020-08-13 13:28
I'm happy to reply in writing also.
I mentioned the example of DFO being responsible for fish farms as well as wild-capture fisheries. I believe there is the potential for massive conflict on decision-making with those two files.
Dan Edwards
View Dan Edwards Profile
Dan Edwards
2020-08-13 13:28
There's another major conflict as well, and it has to do with the federal government's fiduciary responsibility to first nations. It's been very clear, in court cases here in British Columbia, that because of that conflict, when discussing the management and the allocation of resources within the fishing industry, the stakeholder interests need to be at the table. Otherwise, the Government of Canada and its bureaucracy cannot, without being in a conflict, actually represent our interests. That's a conflict.
Kathy Scarfo
View Kathy Scarfo Profile
Kathy Scarfo
2020-08-13 13:29
I would like to follow up on that.
Yes, fish farms are definitely a conflict. Maybe they should be in the agriculture ministry and allow fisheries to be managed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I think the buying of licences, the transfer programs where DFO manages opportunity and then tries to manage buying licences at best value for dollar, is a major conflict of interest. They basically starve you out and then offer to buy your licence in a reverse bid where you compete with each other. That's just unquestionably a conflict of interest. As well, I think DFO being the lead in negotiations on reconciliation and also providing fishing opportunities and allocation should be removed from the department.
Just to follow up on that, I said something before about social engineering. Who, where, when and how fish are caught determines the cultural and coastal community quality of life in so many ways. If the department is now engaged in who, where, when and how to the degree that they are, more than, “There are fishing opportunities, and therefore let's figure out how to harvest them”, then you've changed the role of the department and they are in conflict with their primary mandate.
View Peter Julian Profile
Thank you very much, Mr. Tassé. That is one of the things that have come out in the last few days.
You talked about all the various issues related to transparency. When a government gives contracts, is it important that this be done in a transparent and accessible way for everyone and that all non-profit organizations or all businesses be able to submit their bids for a program like that?
Marc Tassé
View Marc Tassé Profile
Marc Tassé
2020-08-12 17:47
Yes, transparency is one of the fundamental rules.
First, the information must be documented and gathered. Then, it must be circulated, meaning to ensure transparency. We must not disclose only the information that we deem favourable to our decision, we must disclose all the information. So transparency is crucial.
View Peter Julian Profile
In addition, people who manage other not-for-profit organizations, not just a few people who have that knowledge, might be able to bid.
Marc Tassé
View Marc Tassé Profile
Marc Tassé
2020-08-12 17:48
Yes, of course it is always better.
That is why we said that we issued an open call for tenders. It is therefore open to everyone.
Earlier, I talked about accessibility. It must be accessible to the majority of businesses that have the minimum necessary qualifications.
View Bardish Chagger Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Chair, members of the committee, Canadians, I appreciate your inviting me today to appear before you. With me is my senior associate deputy minister, Gina Wilson. I will refer to her as my deputy.
We are here, as requested, to provide you with information on the safeguards that have been put in place within the federal government to avoid, mitigate and prevent conflicts of interest. These safeguards apply to the federal government policies on procurement, contracting, grants and contributions, and all other federal spending policies.
I would like to begin by pointing out that the Government of Canada is committed to open and transparent governance. What I mean by that is a government that gives all Canadians broad access to its data and information. Since 2014, the directive on open government has promoted transparency and accountability across all departments.
As Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, I received a very clear mandate letter from the Prime Minister. That letter is available publicly online. It states that, like all of my cabinet colleagues, I am committed to building a government that is transparent, honest and accountable to Canadians; upholds the highest ethical standards; pays close attention to the management of public funds; and exercises the utmost care and prudence in this regard. These values guide me every day in my work. That's true for me, it's true for my colleagues, and I hope we would agree that it is even true for my departmental officials. All the ministers received these guidelines in our mandate letters, and we are all subject to the same laws.
Whatever our role, there are mechanisms in place to guide us. All members of Parliament must comply with the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. Ministers and parliamentary secretaries must also abide by the regulations and measures set out in the Conflict of Interest Act. Our staff must also meet the high standard of probity and integrity as set out in the “policies for ministers' offices”.
It's in this context that I'm fulfilling the mandate I have been given and that I am passionate about: namely, to build a more open, diverse and inclusive country where all Canadians have an equal opportunity to succeed.
My responsibilities also include policies and programs in support of LGBTQ2 people and youth. It's a broad mandate that involves working with several ministers and departments, particularly Employment and Social Development Canada, Canadian Heritage, Women and Gender Equality Canada, Health Canada, Public Safety Canada and Justice Canada.
Public servants in all these departments are also bound by strict rules of integrity. They must all comply with the public service values and ethics code for the public sector. The public servants at Employment and Social Development Canada who support me through, among other things, the Canada Service Corps program. are governed by this code as are all the staff at Canadian Heritage who support me in the delivery of programs to promote multiculturalism and fight racism. They all receive training in this area. As well, employees involved in the delivery of transfer payment programs receive additional training to help them identify and deal with potential conflicts of interest. It's also important to note that all Canadian individuals and organizations applying for funding are required to disclose any potential conflicts of interest at the time of application.
The distribution of financial support is governed by the Financial Administration Act and the federal government, as a whole, is governed by the oversight and accountability procedures of the Treasury Board Secretariat. Without naming them all, I would like to single out the policy on financial management, the policy on transfer payments, and the policy on results, evaluation and internal audit.
Unlike how the Conservatives are choosing to portray this, the policy on transfer payments, in particular, allows the government to ensure that these payments are managed in a manner that respects sound stewardship and the highest level of integrity, transparency and accountability. Government programs also have terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board Secretariat. The anti-racism action plan, for instance, includes terms and conditions to ensure that all organizations have equal access to funding. In this particular case, we are required to publish the program guidelines at least six weeks before the application deadline. There are also guidelines for communicating clearly with funding applicants.
Allow me to touch briefly on a few points that I am sure will be of interest to the committee.
The first is risk management. The Financial Administration Act helps us strike an appropriate balance between the high-risk decisions, which require input from senior management, and those that are more operational. Risk-based decision-making models allow us to assess the risks associated with, among other things, the funding applicant and the activities being considered for funding. They reduce program delivery costs, alleviate the administrative burden and reduce the time it takes to notify recipients.
The second is conflict of interest. I've already touched on the subject, and I'm coming back to it because it's important. Mechanisms are in place in all departments to prevent the risk of bias or conflict of interest. At Canadian Heritage, for example, the decision to approve a grant or contribution is never made by a single individual. In addition to regular internal assessments, they can call on peer reviews or reviews by internal or external committees. Government employees can also work with the office of values and ethics to address any apparent or potential conflict of interest situation. There are requirements to disclose the involvement of former public servants who are subject to the conflict of interest and post-employment guidelines.
The third is internal controls. In addition to government controls such as the policy on government security, several departments have internal control frameworks that outline financial management roles and responsibilities. These frameworks are designed to provide reasonable assurance that public resources are used prudently and that financial management processes are effective and efficient.
The fourth is transparency and accountability. Via the open government portal at, all Canadians can view grants and contributions that have been awarded. Canadians can also consult the various departmental websites for information on those departments' plans, outcomes, costs incurred, contracts awarded, consultations and evaluations undertaken, and a wealth of other information about government and public sector representatives. Mandate letters and transition materials are also freely accessible.
As stated in the Clerk of the Privy Council's 26th annual report, the public service of Canada has received “clean, unqualified audits” for two decades. It tied with the United Kingdom for first place on the 2018 open data barometer and is recognized internationally as one of the most effective public services. I would like to acknowledge and appreciate their work.
I would like to conclude with a concrete example that illustrates the rationale behind all these measures and safeguards.
Last May, in response to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Canada adopted a series of measures to support individuals and organizations in many sectors of our economy. For my part, I insisted that my programs be adapted, whether by streamlining processes or speeding up payments, in order to support organizations that advance multiculturalism, diversity, inclusion and opportunities for youth in Canada. Thanks to the rigorous mechanisms that frame our actions, we've been able to respond quickly and effectively to the pressing needs of Canadians, but we are not out of the woods yet, and we have a lot more work to do.
We have adapted to the situation without compromising our rigour, and together we are continuing to build a government that is open and transparent to all Canadians.
Madam Chair, members of the committee, I thank you for your attention, and I look forward to your questions. I've tried to keep my comments brief so that we can answer as many questions as possible.
Duff Conacher
View Duff Conacher Profile
Duff Conacher
2020-08-10 14:15
Thank you very much.
Democracy Watch is calling on the members of the committee today not only to recommend many changes to prevent conflicts of interest in government decisions with regard to spending but also to work together and actually draft and propose a bill, and to introduce it in the House of Commons this fall. Hopefully it will pass by the end of the year in this minority government.
You could easily work together to sponsor a bill that would lower the political donation and loan limit to $100, as in Quebec, to stop the unethical influence of big money in Canadian federal politics and to close loopholes that allow for secret, unethical lobbying, excessive government secrecy, spending without competitive bidding, and politicians and top government officials profiting from their decisions in secret. The bill must also strengthen enforcement by establishing an independent commission to appoint our democracy and good government watchdogs; requiring the watchdogs to audit everyone regularly and issue public rulings on all questionable situations instead of making secret rulings or ignoring complaints; allowing anyone to challenge the rulings of any watchdog in court; extending whistle-blower protection to everyone in federal politics, including political staff and the staff of political parties; and imposing high fines for ethics violations, including dishonesty.
Secret and unethical lobbying, excessive government secrecy, unethical big-money influence campaigns, and unethical decision-making and spending are all legal in federal politics and generally across the country. Canadians are more likely to get caught parking their car illegally than politicians are to get caught violating key ethics rules and spending rules. Incredibly, across the country, the penalties for illegally parking your car or vehicle are higher than are those for serious ethics violations by federal politicians and top government officials.
This dangerously undemocratic and corrupt system is the scandal, and it's not surprising that it encourages dishonest, unethical, secretive, unrepresentative and wasteful decisions by politicians and government officials. It must finally be cleaned up by closing all the loopholes, increasing transparency, strengthening political ethics and spending rules and their enforcement, and increasing penalties.
I have been before this committee about 15 times in the last 20 to 25 years. I'm not going to say anything very different from what I said those other 15 times, but I'm going to go through a few of the details, based on the summary I just gave, of the six key areas that need to be cleaned up in order to actually prevent conflicts of interest.
First of all, stop big money in politics. Stopping big money in politics is key because the favours organizations and their lobbyists can do for parties and candidates by funnelling and bundling donations unethically influence the decisions of cabinet ministers and other decision-makers in the federal government. Clinical testing by psychologists worldwide has shown that even small gifts and favours have influence and are the best way to actually influence someone's decisions. The only way to stop the unethical influence of big money in politics is to stop big-money donations and loans, as Quebec has, to ban gifts, including sponsored travel, which it is illegal for MPs to accept even from lobbyists as the lobbying commissioner ruled last year, and to restrict and require disclosure of all favours, including volunteer help on campaigns.
There are many other detailed changes that would democratize our political finance system. Democracy Watch issued a news release today, which has also been submitted to the committee with all the links, including one to the testing done by clinical psychologists showing that giving gifts and doing favours, including making donations, is the best way to influence someone's decision because it creates a sense of obligation to return the favour. That's why it's deeply unethical and has to be stopped through lowering the donation limit and banning gifts, including sponsored travel.
Stopping secret, unethical lobbying is the second of the six key areas.
The House ethics committee—this committee—recommended some of the changes back in 2012 to close secret lobbying loopholes, but not all of them. They need to be closed.
If even some of the loopholes that allow for secret lobbying had been closed years ago, everyone at WE Charity would have been prohibited from lobbying the Prime Minister's Office and the finance minister's office and department, because of their connections to those ministers. However, because the loopholes are open, not only did they not have to register the lobbying for this funding that they received, but it's also legal for them to be giving gifts, doing favours, campaigning and helping on political campaigns for any federal politician. Only registered lobbyists have to follow the lobbyists' ethics code. If you don't stop secret lobbying, you will not stop unethical lobbying because those who can still legally lobby in secret will also be able to lobby unethically.
Secret lobbying is only a part of the excessive federal government secrecy. The Trudeau Liberals promised that government information would be open by default and promised to apply the Access to Information Act to ministers' offices. Neither promise has been kept. Past governments have also not kept their open government promises.
There are many loopholes in the Access to Information Act. It really should be called “the guide to keeping information secret act” because that's really what it is—it's so full of loopholes. Those loopholes must be closed to end the culture of excessive secrecy that often hides wrongdoing and wrongdoers in the federal government.
The fourth area is to stop unethical decision-making. It is legal under the Conflict of Interest Act for ministers and top government officials to profit from their decisions. As long as the decision applies generally, which 99% of their decisions do, they are not required to step aside when they have a conflict of interest. They are actually allowed to have a financial conflict of interest and still participate in making the decision. This was proven most recently by finance minister Bill Morneau, who introduced a bill that would have helped his own family's pension management company make more money. Since he was a shareholder at the time, Mr. Morneau would have made more money. The Ethics Commissioner ruled that this was all fine because of this giant loophole in the Conflict of Interest Act. That loophole also exists in the MPs' ethics code and in the Senate ethics code.
The Conflict of Interest Act is a key law that protects the public's money and protects our democracy. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1996 that if it is not strictly and strongly enforced, along with other laws like the Criminal Code anti-bribery provisions, we do not have a democracy. This key law does not apply 99% of the time to decisions made by the most powerful people in the federal government. This loophole must be closed and everyone in federal politics must be prohibited from participating in any decision-making process when they have even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
As well, a rule requiring honesty should be added to the federal ethics law and to the codes, to ensure that politicians and government officials are penalized if they mislead voters about anything, including their own wrongdoing.
Unbelievably, the rules and codes that cabinet ministers have imposed on the lowest level of government employees in the federal government, who have very little decision-making power at all, prohibit those employees from participating in all decisions if they have even a potential or apparent conflict of interest, even when the decision applies generally. Those lower-level employees are also required to be honest and to provide honest advice. They can be suspended or fined if they break those rules.
This is a truly perverse system, where the lowest level, least powerful people in the federal government and in federal politics are the ones who actually have the highest ethics standards and the highest penalties.
As well, so-called blind trusts must be banned, as was recommended by the 1984 Starr-Sharp report, as well as the 1987 Parker commission. The person who sets up a trust knows what they put in it, so it's not a blind trust. It's a complete sham. It's a facade. Instead, politicians and government officials should be required to sell their investments while in office, as again the Parker commission recommended.
Conflict of interest screens should also be banned because they are smokescreens that hide whether someone is actually stepping aside from decisions when they have a conflict of interest.
Then the last two areas—areas five and six—are, first, to stop questionable sole-source spending. There are far too many loopholes that allow for sole-source spending. A way to check them is to close some of them, but also to require, if it is significant spending, that the institution doing the spending check with the Auditor General and do a little compliance check before it actually initiates the spending process. Then the Auditor General could say, “No, you can't do that. You have to have a competitive bid or I'm going to rule when I audit it five years from now and find that you've broken all the rules.”
Finally, we need to strengthen enforcement. The watchdogs are hand-picked by the cabinet ministers and top government officials they watch over. They usually don't have the power to impose penalties. They're allowed to do secret rulings, and, as a result, it's not surprising that they have acted like lapdogs, letting many people off the hook. Everyone needs to be able to challenge their rulings in court. They need to be chosen by an independent commission. They must be required to conduct audits and issue public rulings on every questionable situation, and they must be empowered to impose high fines for violations of these key good government rules.
Finally, whistle-blower protection, as I mentioned, must be extended to everyone who works as political staff or for political parties. A House of Commons committee unanimously recommended in June 2017 several key changes to strengthen the whistle-blower protection system. The government ignored those recommendations, as they ignored this committee's recommendations to strengthen the Access to Information Act, and as the Harper Conservative government, back in 2012, ignored the recommendations made by this committee to close many of the secret lobbying loopholes.
I welcome your questions about any of these six areas. All of these changes are needed to close the loopholes and to stop conflicts of interest in government spending decisions. I hope committee members will work together to draft a bill, propose it in the House and, in this minority government, recruit your colleagues to pass it this fall and finally clean up this undemocratic and corrupt—
View Michael Barrett Profile
I have just a couple of seconds left, so it's a quick question.
What grade would you give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his adherence to ethics laws since being elected in 2015?
Duff Conacher
View Duff Conacher Profile
Duff Conacher
2020-08-10 14:33
On ethics laws and also in terms of breaking open government promises, the Liberals rate an F in both cases, for sure. It's been a complete failure. He sent a great letter to ministers with great talk in terms of saying that they have to meet the highest ethical standards that will bear the “closest public scrutiny”. That was in November 2015, but Prime Minister Trudeau has not walked his own talk ever since.
View Matthew Green Profile
Sure. I would also like to publicly state that I think there is some confusion around the relationship between the Trudeau family and the Kielburgers. One said they were friends. One said they weren't friends. It was kind of awkward, quite frankly.
This idea of plausible deniability seems to underscore the circumvention of the act as it's applied. This is subsection 6(1):
No public office holder shall make a decision or participate in making a decision related to the exercise of an official power, duty or function if the public office holder knows or reasonably should know that, in the making of the decision, he or she would be in a conflict of interest.
Plausible deniability says, “I didn't know.” What do you consider to be reasonable? Please be brief, as I have only another three minutes.
Duff Conacher
View Duff Conacher Profile
Duff Conacher
2020-08-10 14:51
Again, I think if your staff are acting on your behalf...of the top government officials, which cabinet appoints and which, unfortunately, makes the top level of the public service partisan, because they're all serving at the pleasure of the cabinet. If those people are acting on your behalf, then I don't think the plausible deniability defence should be allowed unless you can truly prove that they went rogue.
That's the key. It's part of our whole notion of ministerial responsibility and accountability. It's stated in the Prime Minister's code and the Treasury Board code that staff are acting on behalf of ministers and have no authority to act otherwise.
View Damien Kurek Profile
This will be my last question. The Prime Minister in the 2015 campaign talked a lot about sunny ways, transparency and all of these things. We saw a few virtue-signalling measures like public mandate letters and that sort of thing. Can you comment on any substantive changes that have taken place over the last number of years since the current government formed office in 2015, other than those very public attempts to make things look transparent?
Duff Conacher
View Duff Conacher Profile
Duff Conacher
2020-08-10 15:12
The Access to Information Act enforcement has been strengthened by making the Information Commissioner able to order the release of documents, but the Liberals in 2015 did not promise any changes to strengthen ethics rules, lobbying rules or whistle-blower protection and have ignored recommendations from committees since then on this.
That's about it. That's why I say there's a failing grade on both the ethics file and the open government file for this government.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
I just want to return the favour. What's your rating on Prime Minister Harper's government?
Duff Conacher
View Duff Conacher Profile
Duff Conacher
2020-08-10 15:18
Democracy Watch's final report card on the Conservatives, issued in 2014, rated them an F for their government accountability and democratization record, essentially failing to keep more than half of their promises made in 2006 in the Federal Accountability Act, and also taking some huge steps backwards by gutting the ethics rules in a few key ways.
Robert Czerny
View Robert Czerny Profile
Robert Czerny
2020-08-10 16:24
Thank you very much.
Thank you for this opportunity to address you on important matters of proper relationships and conduct of work in Canada's national government.
My strong interest in federal government matters dates back nearly half a century. I was a public servant from 1973 to 1994. After that, much of my work as a management and communications consultant was for federal government clients, including Parliament itself. I have been very active at the Ethics Practitioners’ Association of Canada for the last 10 years, including five years as president. We have workplace and retired members from the public and private sectors, and our educational activities have been much appreciated by public servants wishing to reflect on the ethical dimensions of their work.
This background allows me to highlight various dimensions of ethical conduct of public servants in relation to Parliament, ministers and cabinet, but I'm not an expert in conflict of interest legislation, structures and procedures or in the details of the present case. Rather, I hope to elucidate the context of the work done by public servants in a professional and ethical manner.
I'll end with five recommendations.
First, trust is essential to a successful public service. The public must trust the government in order to have smooth, constructive relationships between government and society. Without trust, you can't have peace, order and good government any more than you can have an efficient commercial marketplace. This is why it is essential to keep private interests out of government decision-making and operations. Conflict of interest, whether real or merely potential or apparent, can destroy the public's trust in the government to act in its interest. Therefore, avoiding the appearance of conflict of interest is no less important than avoiding its actual occurrence.
Second, non-partisan public servants and elected representatives must collaborate in the work of government. There needs to be clarity about their complementary roles and operating principles. That relationship was articulated in a careful and inspiring manner in “A Strong Foundation”, a 1996 report on public service values and ethics. Besides stating values that you want to find in every workplace and pursuit, such as integrity and respect, it sets out what it means to be a professional in public service within Canada's democratic system.
Third, key mechanisms have grown in this area since that time. There are, for instance, mechanisms for accountability, conflict of interest of both politicians and public servants, and protecting individuals who disclose wrongdoing from reprisal. There is also a solid set of best practices to encourage ethical conduct in organizations. Some of these are the articulation of values and codes of conduct; training and dialogue; counselling and mediation services; and how to manage conflicts of interest in, for instance, small communities where officials frequently have to deal with friends and relations. Ethics officials throughout the federal government have a network through which they share insights on all of this. Our association gives them the opportunity to do the same and to learn from the experiences of those in other sectors.
Fourth, an organization can have a code of conduct, a statement of values, or both.
Codes of conduct spell out a bottom line of rules and norms. Compliance is the issue, and we ask if this or that behaviour passes or fails a norm, if it obeys or contravenes a rule, and what the sanctions or consequences are for transgressions.
Statements of values, on the other hand, articulate the aspirations of an organization. The right questions to ask for these are about how well this or that behaviour embodies our ideals, and how we could do better. This is the realm of learning, improvement and celebrating excellence.
To my mind, an organization needs both. Being serious about ethics requires having a bottom line of acceptability and sanctioning what falls below that line, but organizations must aim higher than mere legality; otherwise, they won't inspire initiative and excellence in their personnel.
Fifth, what happens in an organization reflects its culture. Culture exists at all levels and is constantly shaped by behaviour at all levels, but the key factor is leadership, the tone at the top. Culture cascades; the ethics of senior leaders is signalled by their actions even more than by their words, and it filters down throughout the organization.
Sixth, a key spot where the ethics rubber meets the road is in speaking up, in raising an issue that could meet with resistance and could make the speaker unpopular or worse. A teacher and researcher in the United States named Mary Gentile discovered that people often know what's right and want to do it, but feel awkward about speaking truth to power even if the culture accepts it. Her “giving voice to values” practice involves a person reflecting on their moral courage, developing personal scripts for speaking up, and then rehearsal and practice. Her approach has a worldwide following, including in some business schools and in other uptake in Canada. The capacity to speak truth to power is needed at every level from junior staff with supervisor problems to interaction between a minister and his or her deputy. By the way, I have nothing personally to gain in publicizing her work.
Seventh, speaking up is necessary for cleaning up. Secrecy allows things like bullying and fraud to continue in the dark. However, secrecy is entirely different from confidentiality. Confidentiality is an absolute necessity for public servants to be able to give honest advice to ministers and for ministers to seek it.
Now I will share my five recommendations. The first two are specific to conflict of interest.
Number one, lest conflict of interest ever be overlooked, it should be standard procedure for all cabinet meetings that the chair of the meeting begins by raising the issue of conflict and inviting recusal.
Number two, there could be a similar process at the departmental level. When helping the minister to prepare for a cabinet meeting, the deputy minister's written or personal briefing of the minister could include a reminder along the lines of “please assure yourself that you are not in conflict of interest regarding these agenda items”. This should be seen as part of the deputy's support to a minister.
Number three, requests to a department from a minister or cabinet can be as broad as “provide feasible options for achieving x”, but the request can also be as narrow as “conduct due diligence on choice y for achieving x”. In order to give the best possible advice, in order to speak truth to power and protect ministers from possible risks, the deputy's response to a narrower request could add any other pertinent intelligence that departmental staff can generate.
Number four, public servants sometimes feel inappropriately pressured when making decisions or providing information or analysis. Of course, they should respect their values and ethics code and resist pressures to contravene it. At the same time, other parties should also respect the code and not try to have public servants deviate from it. A statement should be added to the code addressed to anyone who deals with the public service to the effect that “it is a violation of this code to pressure a federal public servant to contravene it.” This is compatible with current instructions to ministers and ministerial staff.
Number five, an ethical culture is sustained by constant dialogue concerning “the good” as well as specific instruction on norms, values, structures and processes. Senior leaders should provide the tone from the top by supporting and participating in such dialogue and training constantly.
In conclusion, I believe that Canada's public service has the capacity to provide expert and ethical service. If that is what parliamentarians want, they should support it, they should insist on nothing less, and they should never ask for anything else.
View Élisabeth Brière Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you.
In a 2002 study you co-authored on conflicts of interest in charitable organizations, you make recommendations for situations where decision-makers can't recuse themselves. The country's top public servant said a few weeks ago that, given the size of the program, not informing the Prime Minister of what was going on was not an option. One of the solutions you recommend is using an honest expert, someone with experience, to ensure impartiality.
Do you think the public service fits that description?
Chris MacDonald
View Chris MacDonald Profile
Chris MacDonald
2020-08-10 16:45
One of the standard ways to mitigate the effect of conflict of interest, if you can't make it go away, is to involve more people in the decision-making. If you're the only relevant expert in some field and you need to be part of this adjudicating committee, then, if we can't remove you, what we need to do is bring in additional people so that more people are party to the decision.
No one is going to think that's a perfect situation, but it might be the best we can do in a given situation.
View Jacques Gourde Profile
It's not the deputy minister's job to tell the minister that they have a conflict of interest. The minister should realize it themselves. If they can't see it on their own, then, they don't deserve to be minister. It's as simple as that. Ethics and conflicts of interest go to the heart of politics. Canadians put their trust in politicians. If that bond of trust is broken, our democratic system falls apart.
Do you agree?
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